For the most part (contextually) these phrases seem to be interchangeable, like "really?!", "for real?!", "seriously?!" etc.

Are there cases/scenarios when only one would be applicable?


Well, for starters let's say that you probably don't want to say マジで?! to your boss. :)

Maybe native speakers can be more specific but as far as I know the main difference is in politeness level, the meaning is the same.

So in a formal situation you would want to use 本当ですか, while if you are talking with a close friend you can say “マジで?” that is way more casual (and similarly for そうなの).

At this link you can actually even see that マジ is listed as a common mistake people sometimes make in formal situations where 本当ですか should be used.

Ps. let me make clear that hence also 本当に? is actually quite casual (I think less than マジで though) and so when in doubt is always better to use 本当ですか instead. Here is another related link.

  • マジで?! I can't say it to my boss? lol (I'm partial to 「マジで」, first Japanese phrase I learned) – Y12K Apr 20 '17 at 7:08
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    Well, it really depends on what kind of relationship you have with your boss. I had a boss with whom I had a very casual relationship and I could say that sometimes.. but also, I'm not Japanese so I feel there is always much more tolerance when it comes to formal Japanese. However, if you want to be precise and "speak like a Japanese would" (at least as far as my knowledge goes) yeah, in a typical Japanese environment you would never say "マジで?!" to your superior.. and probably not even co-worker as it is a very very casual expression. – Tommy Apr 20 '17 at 7:14
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    マジか。。。。。。lol :P – Y12K Apr 20 '17 at 7:27

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